Thursday, 27 October 2016

North personal 2016 round up.

I'm lucky enough to get away on quite a few holidays each year so it's easy to overlook what has been happening locally, even to the extent of overlooking what you have had the pleasure of seeing.
This year has been no exception.
Way back in January regular visits to the resident Black Redstart on a nearby headland to both photograph and feed began to pay dividends with the bird becoming very confiding.
Black Redstart
It wasn't the only bird that benefited though. It was regularly bullied by the resident Robin and a couple of Dunnock were quick to spot an opportunity for an easy meal too.
The mythical Hedge Sparrow      Llandudno
I'm lucky enough to live in a woodland setting too so my bird feeders are pretty popular during the winter months and a pair of Sparrowhawks take advantage of the feeding.
Foiled again    2016-01-21
I'm not in to driving long distances for my birding preferring to put the money towards holidays instead. Wife Claire and I plan to take a break both before and after Christmas. This year we went to Cuba for most of February. The cold and damp of winter is a bit off putting but the need to get a "photo fix" had me venturing over to Anglesey, an island just along the coast from where I live.
In recent years attempts have been made to eradicate the alien Grey Squirrels and encourage the spread of the native Red's.
It's worked incredibly well and now this is one of the best spots in the UK to see Red Squirrels.
Red Squirrel   2016-01-20
Birds such as over wintering Jays benefit from the food put down for the squirrels too.
Jay     2016-01-20
And just along the road the Maltraeth marsh area holds over wintering Pintail ducks as well as the odd rarity.
Pintail   2016-01-20
One of the best spots in the UK for watching Starling murmurations is right on my doorstep at the local RSPB nature reserve. They put on an incredible show as they gather in stunning formations before dropping down to roost in the redheads.
Starling murmuration Conwy RSPB
Your imagination can go wild and they are truly a magnificent sight to rival anything the natural world can produce anywhere in the world.
Starlings at sundown
Another rarity in the southern half of the UK particularly is the Black Grouse. They gather at dawn every morning at their usual lekking spot and you need to get there well before first light to avoid any disturbance.
Black Grouse 2016-04-20
It's an hours drive to the site but the unearthly hour I have to get up does reward those who make the effort.
Sunny Grouse 2016-04-20
In to April and May it's wonderful to see the new growth and spring flowers that bring with them the arrival of the summer migrants.
One of the first to return to our garden is the Chiffchaff 
The delight of hearing him for the first time soon becomes a bit of an irritation with his constant Chiffchaff call as he claims his territory. The numbers have increased in recent years too and we have several pairs in and around our garden. It's a nice reward to see their offspring later in the summer too.
Possible Chiffchaff ?
One of the more furtive birds is another regular summer visitor, the Blackcap. They feed mainly on insects but on their first arrival eek out their diet with Ivy berries too. I have plenty of them around and about.
One of my favourite shots of the year was this group of newly fledged chicks.
Blackcap        Llandudno
A sight I hadn't seen before and it was truly heart warming. Their last moments together before splitting up and heading off their own separate ways. Hopefully they will end up back here next year.
We had a pretty miserable spring here this year, wet and damp. I had arranged a week's photography trip to Iceland with my regular travel companion and near neighbour Mike. We were watching the weather there with trepidation. It was still covered in snow in the area we were booked to stay. As it turned out we had better weather than here in the UK.
By the time the weather and light had improved sufficiently most birds had bred and their chicks fledged. I have to admit to being a fair weather birder when at home.
I just caught up with a Grey Wagtail family before they parted company.
Grey Wagtail 2016-05-06
and while I was at it, the local Dipper population is quite good. it's love of fast running water and mountain streams make it more unusual in other parts of the UK.
I have two regular haunts for photography. One is the garden, the other my local reserve.
Both can seem a little devoid of new interest at certain times of the year so when I heard there was a Great Egret at the reserve it was worth a visit.
Great White Egret   Conwy RSPB
They may be common in other parts of the world but they are still a rarity in the UK although less so each passing year.
The local reserve used to be one of the best spots in the UK for photographing Stoats, particularly when they have a new litter who come out to play. Unfortunately sightings have become quite rare this last couple of years as it's presumed they have moved their dens after floods a couple of years back. I had one brief glimpse this year but managed to capture the action.
Back in the garden one mammal that was definitely an unwanted guest, well after he's been photographed anyway, was this Brown Rat.
One of the downsides of feeding the birds, this fella had no hesitation of climbing to the feeders and stealing all he could.
That meant we withheld feeding for a few weeks until we were sure he was gone but with it went some of our birds too. They come back eventually though.
Mammal sightings in the UK are not that common. There are plenty about but most are nocturnal like the Badgers. This was only my 4th sighting ever and yet they live just down the road.
I don't think this youngster was long for this world I'm afraid. 
This one had definitely already departed. A passer by spotted him lying by the side of the footpath so I decided to take advantage of his demise. Seeing a live Mole is a rarity as they spend nearly all their time underground. This near perfect specimen was as good as you will get so I gave him a brush and put him in one of the nearby mole hills for a more dignified and realistic shot. Nobody has noticed he's an ex-mole so I'm sharing my dark secret for the first time.
Well the UK summer can be a bit sparse for subjects and I'll try anything.
Come the Autumn and we do get the odd migrant dropping in on their way south.
Over in Anglesey, a Wryneck had been reported and I had to go. This is a species that was at the very top of my wanted list for several years. Along with pal Mike we had hoped to see one on trips to Hungary and Bulgaria but had failed.
Now we had a chance and what a chance it turned out to be! Usually they are seen on the East coast of the UK, not the West where I am. It was a 90 mile round trip but well worth the effort and I went twice in an attempt to get a decent shot.
After the first visit I was pleased to have at least got this shot.
but the return was even better with the bird showing magnificently.
Just look at that tongue which it uses to probe for insects!
The bird was happy to hunt, groom, stretch
and even yawn.
I felt it was a monkey off my back, but the wait and previous frustrations had been well worth it.
Within a fortnight we had another extremely rare visitor, this time a Booted Warbler right on the doorstep virtually.
Booted Warbler
These are resident in Siberia in the summer and head south to India for the winter. This one was way off course.
During the week it was present birdwatchers from all over the UK arrived to take a look.
It was feeding well it seemed.
Booted Warbler
But it was loosing it's tail feathers.
Booted Warbler
We already knew that it's chances of survival were slim but now it was more or less a certainty there would be no happy ending. Here one day, vanished the next,  my guess is that it fell prey to a Sparrowhawk or such like.
Sadly that's what usually happens. Only yesterday we had a Hoopoe down at the local reserve. Again, very unusual birds in the UK. I didn't get around to going to see it as I have seen many on my foreign travels. I won't see this one for sure. Within 24 hours it had met it's demise, taken by a Peregrine Falcon in front of witnesses this time.
So that brings my local Welsh year up to date. Maybe not a great deal to some but the fact that unusual sightings are rarer and more difficult to come by makes them all the more precious. I have made a couple of trips in to England but that's all. With winter now really starting to take a grip it's time for me to migrate too.
Next stop The Gambia
until then...cheers!

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Isle of May,Scotland. June 2016 Part 8 Scavengers and predators.

One of the most lasting impressions that you come away from the Isle of May with is the value of life itself. Sitting on a cliff top surrounded by wildlife and your thoughts that can be both blissful and a tad disturbing at times ! Those rocky cliffs have been there for thousands of years and will be I'm sure for many more to come. Me, well I'm just passing through and the older I get the more I realise how precious life is.
Watching all that goes on around you makes you realise how lucky you are, well certainly in my case.Others maybe haven't had all the breaks I have, but things haven't always gone smoothly for me either.
Those creatures born as birds have a real battle of survival, especially on the May. The huge effort involved in perpetuating the species which often ends in tragedy. 
Initially you may have contempt for some species.Take the Gulls for example. 
The Greater Black-backed Gull is top of the food chain on the island.
Great Black-backed Gull Isle of May,Scotland 2016
No one messes with this monster Gull.
Great Black-backed Gull Isle of May,Scotland 2016
Even the bird ringers must think twice before going near a nest!
Like the other Gulls the GBB will both scavenge and hunt.
They fly along the cliffs looking for vulnerable chicks.
Great Black-backed Gull Isle of May,Scotland 2016
but that bill is capable of taking something much larger if it's desperate, an adult Puffin even.
Great Black-backed Gull Isle of May,Scotland 2016-10
I didn't witness any successes this time but I have in the past.
The Herring Gulls, common were I live in North Wales are more likely to feed on shellfish and molluscs than the other gulls from what I could see. They are very cunning and drop their prey from a height to crack open shells. Like all the gulls they will feed on garbage too but there is none to be had on the island, well maybe the odd leftover scraps head in their direction.
Herring Gull Isle of May,Scotland 2016
Often seen as a pest they will attack humans who happen to be holding food such as ice creams or chips having been encouraged to do so by people feeding them in the first place.
They will also join in the attack on returning Puffins too but that role seems to be dominated by the Lesser Black-backed Gulls.
Lesser Black-backed Gull Isle of May,Scotland 2016
They are very sneaky ! They attack the Puffins as they sit on the cliff top waiting to approach their burrows.
Lesser Black-backed Gull Isle of May,Scotland 2016
It doesn't seem too effective as I never saw them make a Puffin drop it catch in that way, however, in other areas they just sit on the ground around the burrow entrances and mob a little Puffin en masse.
That was very successful and a high proportion of the Puffins lost their catch as can be seen here.
Lesser Black-backed Gull Isle of May,Scotland 2016
Pretty revolting! The parent throws up and the chick eats the result.
Lesser Black-backed Gull Isle of May,Scotland 2016
As you can see, it's full of stolen Sand Eels.
There are one or two particular rogue birds though. They are not content to steal another's dinner. They will steal their young given half a chance. Tern chicks are a favourite but they will stoop as low as stealing from other gulls too.
Herring Gull Isle of May,Scotland 2016
This one has grabbed a Herring Gull chick and the adult has given chase.
The Herring Gull's cries of desperation are heard by others and soon they join in the rescue attempt.
Herring Gull Isle of May,Scotland 2016
Sometimes though, too many cooks spoil the broth so to speak.
Herring Gull Isle of May,Scotland 2016
A Gull joining in the posse is one Gull too many.
Herring Gull Isle of May,Scotland 2016
It flies in to the following group just as they were about to catch up with the thief.
The following mob is dispersed and the Lesser Black-backed makes good it's escape.
Herring Gull Isle of May,Scotland 2016
Well, that's one bird's demise but another's survival. 
As the sun goes down on another day those of us left take in the beauty of a glorious sunset.
Lesser Black-backed Gull Isle of May,Scotland 2016
Some won't live to see another.
Me ? Well thankfully I have the security of home to return to not that life on the May is in any way uncomfortable nowadays. Returning to the mainland always makes me a little sad. There is definitely something special about being cut off from the rest of the world, well so it seems anyway.
Once again, my thanks to all who made my visit possible.
Until the next time.Farewell.
Isle of May,Scotland 2016

Isle of May,Scotland. June 2016 Part 7 Making up the numbers.

During the summer months there are not too many species of birds to be seen on the May, but had we been a month or two earlier there are a whole host of possibilities both with regular migrants dropping in as well as the odd exotic. A Bluethroat, way up my list of want to see species had been found on the island just a couple of weeks or so before we got there. Ah, well we had to make do with more humble species.
Wren, Dunnock and even a pair of Barn Swallow breed on the island in small numbers, Feral Pigeon looking something like a Rock Dove are fairly plentiful and are probably an attraction for the occasional visit by a Peregrine which used to breed on the island but doesn't appear to do so now.
Starlings are reasonably abundant too but I think they are non breeding ones.
There are several pairs of Rock Pipit.
Rock Pipit Isle of May,Scotland 2016
They look so insignificant when you see them hunting around the cliff tops, every other bird, even the Puffin, is huge by comparison.
Rock Pipit Isle of May,Scotland 2016
You need to stick a long lens on for a change, that shot taken with a 2.0x converter on a 500mm lens.
Where you find the Rock Pipit you often find the Pied Wagtails too.

Pied Wagtail Isle of May,Scotland 2016
Sometimes on the rocks but more often on the grassy areas.
Pied Wagtail Isle of May,Scotland 2016
hunting the same insect prey as the Pipits.
Pied Wagtail Isle of May,Scotland 2016
Another breeding bird in smaller numbers is the Oystercatcher.
A pair must have been nesting close to a main path as they were always trying to distract you as you walked past.
Oystercatcher Isle of May,Scotland 2016
Very vocal indeed
Oystercatcher Isle of May,Scotland 2016
They would walk up and down the wall
Oystercatcher Isle of May,Scotland 2016
before flying off  and giving more warning cries as they went.
Oystercatcher Isle of May,Scotland 2016
One of a pair have been known to feign injury to try and attract the attention of a predator and distract them from finding their nest. When the predator comes in to attack, the Oystercatcher flies off taking the predator away as they do so.
The other breeding bird that hasn't been mentioned as yet is the Eider Duck. If you arrive in spring time the mating calls of the males ring around the island constantly. Once they have won over their mate they disappear off and leave the Mrs to do all the hard work. I have no respect for the male Eiders whatsoever!
Eider Duck Isle of May,Scotland 2016
The females are somewhat dull in appearance though.A bit more interesting with a quick flutter of the wings.
Eider Duck Isle of May,Scotland 2016
but nevertheless. Dull!
Well not if they have a few ducklings own tow!
Eider Duck Isle of May,Scotland 2016
This particular female had made her nest right up against the Low Light wall and I didn't even notice her at first... that's why they are dull!
Unlike the seabirds on the cliffs who simply lay an egg directly on to the rocky ledge, the Eider's nest is pure luxury.Lined with their famous down, it's the perfect bedding. Once the eggs hatch though, the whole family is up and away.
Eider Duck Isle of May,Scotland 2016
Theses Ducklings are literally a day old but soon they take the long walk up the hill to join the other females and their young in what appears to be a creche. Used to us being around she posed for the shots before deciding the babies were ready for their trek.
Eider Duck Isle of May,Scotland 2016
I would imagine they are very vulnerable at this stage of their lives but I didn't actually witness any casualties.
And there are those that would take advantage.